Anthro 189-04

Disability Ethnography and Design (Spring 2018)

Prof. Karen Nakamura
Time: Mo-We 10a - 11:30a
Location: Rm 221, Kroeber Hall (please note this room number is subject to change)

Brief Course Description

This course explores disability worlds in the Bay Area through the ethnographic field methods, visual anthropology, and design anthropology. What does it mean to be disabled? How are disability organizations in the Bay Area trying to accomplish social and political change? What is the disability world? Through close participant observation and iterative design, students will work closely with local organizations and disabled individuals on projects ranging from the creation of ethnographic and documentary films, the construction of assistive devices, and the documentation of disabled lives and history. Aside from the weekly meetings, students will be expected to spend considerable time embedded in the community and to work on joint and individual projects for the course.


None. Students at every level and from every discipline and major are welcome to take the course.
There is a course enrollment cap.

Grading and Requirements

Students are required to spend at least 40 hours (5 hours a week x 8 weeks) involved in the disability community and working on their field projects. Of the 40 hours, 5 hours must be spent helping a project that is not your own. There are also some short side-projects that are listed that you can also be involved in.

Weekly fieldnotes are required. You must submit 8 sets of weekly fieldnotes that are due Sunday nights by 7pm. The weeks do not have to be contiguous and not each week has to be 5 hours (although you cannot count more than 10 hours in any particular week towards your total) and the fieldnotes need to show evidence of long-term engagement and analysis.

Field projects will be submitted to the UC Berkeley Human Research Protection Program for IRB review as necessary.

There may be occasional short quizzes to check attendance, to make sure you are keeping up with the reading, and to ensure participation. There are no make-ups on the quizzes. The lowest 2 quiz scores will be dropped.

Lab projects are short skill-building projects.

Your final project will be a short design project, ethnographic film, photoessay, audioessay, or other audio-visual production accompanied by a 5-10 page write-up of your fieldnotes and experience.

Course grading:
  • Quizzes and attendance 10%
  • Short lab projects 20%
  • Fieldnotes 20%
  • Final Project and Writeup 50%

Textbooks and Course Readings

Additional course materials such as articles will be distributed in class and through bcourses.

Hamraie, Aimi Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Access.
ebook available on UC Berkeley library


Week 1 (Jan 17)
Topic: Course Introduction
Tuesday: Intro to Course and to Disability Studies
Fieldwork sites
Human Subjects Committee – Orientation

Week 2 (Jan 22-24)
Topic: Intro to disability studies, design anthropology, and ethnographic interviewing
Monday: Disability Studies and Design
® Hamraie Intro and Chapter 1

Wednesday: Recording equipment and good audio
© Schatzman, L. Field Research. Ch 2. Strategies for Entering.
© Spradley, James (1979) – The Ethnographic Interview
® Radio – An Illustrated Guide – buy it, it’s only $2.
® Select and listen to an episode of TAL ( – prepare to discuss it in class. How was it structured? Why was it effective?
® Storyboarding articles

Week 3 (Jan 29)
Monday: Disability Studies and Design
® Hamraie Chap 2-4
Wednesday: Client meeting

Lab 1: Perform an ethnographic interview (Spradley 1979). Topics will be discussed in class.
Take notes, do not transcribe.
Write-up your ethnographic interview in a short ethnographic essay of 2-3 pages. Focus on the content rather than the process.
Due in Monday, Feb 5 at 10am

Week 4 (Feb 5)
Monday: Disability Studies and Design

Wednesday: Check in on projects

Week 11 (April 2):
All project rough-cuts and design prototypes are due. Sign-offs from community partners required.

Week 14 (April 23)
Final presentations to class and community partners.

Lab 2: Run another interview. Topics and subjects to be discussed in class.
Run a rough transcription and storyboard. Edit the interview from Lab #2 into a short (3 minute) audio podcast.
Part one Due Tuesday Feb 7, Final Due in Tuesday, Feb 13 at 5pm